A carer is anyone, including children and adults who looks after a family member, partner or friend who needs help because of their illness, frailty, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction and cannot cope without their support. The care they give is unpaid.
Between 2001 and 2011, the number of unpaid carers grew by 600,000 with the largest increase being in those who provide fifty or more hours of care per week. This equates to 1.4 million people providing fifty or more hours of unpaid care per week.
Unpaid care increased at a faster pace than population growth between 2001 and 2011 and an ageing population with improved life expectancy for people with long term conditions or complex disabilities means more high level care provided for longer.
Increasing hours of care often results in the general health of carers deteriorating incrementally. Unpaid carers who provide high levels of care for sick, or disabled relatives and friends, are more than twice as likely to suffer from poor health compared to people without caring responsibilities, with nearly 21 percent of carers providing over 50 hours of care, in poor health compared to nearly 11 percent of the non-carer population (In Poor Health: the impact of caring on health).
Caring responsibilities can have an adverse impact on the physical and mental health, education and employment potential of those who care, which can result in significantly poorer health and quality of life outcomes. These in turn can affect a carer’s effectiveness and lead to the admission of the cared for person to hospital or residential care (Assessment, eligibility and portability for care users and carers).
84 percent of carers surveyed for the 2013 State of Caring Survey said that caring has had a negative impact on their health, up from 74 percent in 2011-12 (The State of Caring 2013), for example this negative impact may be responsible for the increased risk that carers will suffer from conditions, for example, there is a 23 percent increased risk of stroke for spousal carers (Caregiving Strain and Estimated Risk for Stroke and Coronary Heart Disease Among Spouse Caregivers).
Carers attribute their health risk to a lack of support, with 64 percent citing a lack of practical support (In Sickness and In Health).
70 percent of carers come into contact with health professionals, yet health professionals only identify one in ten carers with GPs, more specifically, only identifying 7 percent (Macmillan Briefing on Carers Issues).
The 2011 Census counted 166,363 young unpaid carers (5 to 17-years-old) in England. Evidence has shown that, providing unpaid care may have an adverse effect on young carers’ general health. There is growing evidence pointing to the adverse impact on the health, future employment opportunities and social and leisure activities of those providing unpaid care, particularly in young carers (Providing unpaid care may have an adverse affect on young carers’ general health).
There is an increasing prevalence of ‘sandwich carers’ (2.4 million in the UK) – those looking after young children at the same time as caring for older parents. It can also be used much more broadly to describe a variety of multiple caring responsibilities for people in different generations (Sandwich generation concern is growing).